In the recent times, tourism has emerged one of the major economic activities in India, especially for creating employment and for social change. In fact the sustained growth in tourism over the past 60 years constitutes one of the most notable developments of our times.
A recent study by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) ranks India second, above China, in the top 10 list of countries where demand for travel and tourism is expected to grow fastest between 2005 and 2014, with an expected annual growth rate of 8%. The Tourism Satellite Account (SAC) recently developed by India confirms tourism as one of the largest sectors of the economy. Directly, or indirectly, tourism contributes about 38.6 million jobs, or 8.2% of total employment. The Incredible India! Campaign and the open skies policy have further boosted the prospects of Indian tourism. Readers of CondeNast Magazine now rank India as the fourth most sought after holiday destination in the world.
The positioning of India has been made by branding India with its breath taking locations, the mysticism of the country represented through the draw of civilization, the call of the wild etc. India has all that & more. But all these focusing are not in a position to provide volumes of tourists as infrastructure is not developed commensurate with the demand. This is the greatest bottleneck area for sustaining the growth. All the entry points at the metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai are choke blocked. Hotel tariff are beyond the reach of leisure tourists and are increasing day by day. Tourists are unhappy and they are now skipping India and going to other competitive destinations. The loss is ours something must be done to avoid these unhappy trends which are empeding the growth of tourism in our country.
In order to overcome the shortage of accommodation, efforts are afoot to create 1.5 lakh hotel rooms in the next four to five years. Leading international chains like Sheraton, Radisson, Marriot, Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, and Hyatt have worked out their hotel expansions plans which will provide additional rooms, but the need is for more budget accommodation. There is required to meet the 10,000-room shortage in this category by 2010 in Delhi to meet the budget tourist's requirements for Commonwealth Games.
To attract greater foreign investment in hotel and tourism related industries, overseas corporate bodies are allowed to invest up to 100% equity on a repatriation basis. But again, they are only interested in deluxe category hotels, so the shortage of accommodation for budget tourists will remain always a bottleneck for tourism growth.
In keeping in view, budget accommodation will be in demand with common wealth games in 2010, IATO passed a resolution at its annual convention in Jaipur in 2006 to build around 50 medium budget hotels to augment existing hotel accommodation. Already, IATO has got in touch with some state governments like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa for land at concessional rates for this purpose. IATO is forming a cooperative which will be nodal agency about implementation of the project.
IATO has also been pleading for government's concurrence to allow hoteliers to build extra floors in existing hotels to tide over the acute shortage situation at entry points. On its merits government has now accepted the request. But IATO also need tax concessions for motivating private sector to invest in hotels and to improve the accommodation infrastructure. No doubt, infrastructure related to accommodation has not developed in commensuration with the international tourist arrivals and growth of domestic tourism, which is over 450 million.
While on FAR for hotels in states and in the capital/NCR, it may be mentioned that the Ministry of Tourism, Hotel Federation, IATO all have been pursuing the matter vigorously with the DDA and various states to take necessary steps to augment the FSI for star category hotels. Some states like Maharashtra have even responded favorably. For eg: The Development Control regulations for Greater Bombay 1991 1provides for an increase of 100 per cent over the permissible FAR. In fact, realizing that the growing tourist numbers were not beign matched by the addition of rooms cities such as Bangalore, Kolkatta, Mumbai and Chennai have granted enhanced FAR in comparison to the FAR of 150 presently granted in Delhi. IATO had recently again pleaded for urgent intervention to grant similar status to hotel in Delhi. The request is for FAR for Hotel plots in NCT of Delhi be enhanced by 50 percent from the present FAR of 150 to 225 for existing hotels and for those under implementation which have been granted approval by the Union Ministry of Tourism from 3 to 5 star deluxe categories. To enable the Centre to earn revenue a reasonable premium may be charged for the plot as fixed in the Schedule of Market Rates of Land in Delhi.
Additionally the plot coverage ratio may also be increased from 30 per cent to at least 50 per cent as hotels require large ground floor podiums to accommodate areas such as restaurants, lounges, banquets etc. This is the best possible way now to meet the shortage of accommodation.
Another very positive step which has been boosting budget accommodation is the Incredible India Bed & Breakfast Scheme where in tourists get the opportunity to stay with Indian family and get a feeling of Home away from home and also at a reasonable price. Its effectiveness will be available after some time. It is expected to provide 10,000 rooms prior to common wealth Games. Delhi Govt also to boost this scheme has given tax concessions and availability water & electricity at domestic rate & not on commercial rate. This is working very well now and supplementing the budget accommodation at least in Delhi.
Airports and air connectivity are other infrastructure issues that need immediate attention. These are two areas which are termed as bottleneck areas for Indian Tourism. Here at airports also, accommodation is a bottleneck area. Hope that with the new airports coming up, this segment will be taken care.
Due to present lack of facilities at airports, often flights are required to hover around airports & landing or talking off are delayed. These are very annoying for tourists. With a view to providing better air connectivity, the aviation policy has now been updated with an open sky agreement with USA, operation of private airlines to international destinations, liberalization of the charter policy and open sky policy during peak seasons. But more international airports are needed. In fact, each state should have one international airport and smaller airports for low-cost airlines and helicopter operations. Defense airports can be utilised better, especially in cities like Jodhpur and Bikaner, with more civilian airline services. Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad airports are being developed under private-public partnerships. More such collaborations are needed for airports like Goa, Jaipur, and Amritsar to accommodate larger aircraft. These airports should be able to meet the 40 million international tourist requirements by 2010.
Even for charters, some new states where at present charters are not being promoted like Madhya Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir Orissa, Punjab can be promoted as good number of NRI's are interested to come by charters. They want to visit these places for spiritual tourism and we are not in a position to encash this demand. Now journeys to the pilgrimage places are time consuming and even lack accommodation facilities. Roads journeys are very tiring and time consuming.
Facilities are also lacking for NRI, entertainment, medical, and MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) tourism and all these segments can boost international tourist arrivals if the proper infrastructure is developed. This should start with the improvement of highway facilities, road signage's, and trained manpower to service all these segments.
Also important area is to ensure tourist visa for overseas tourists, visas on arrival, airport facilitation, duty free shops, good shopping services & safety & security of tourists.
Once all these aspects are actioned and systematized and all things are above mentioned are put at right places for tourists, tourism boom will continue. And if timely actions are not taken to improve air connectivity, airport services, visa formalities, budget hotel & safety norms, tourism will see a negative trend due to lack of actions on the bottleneck areas.
With the greater awareness about the benefits of tourism, a proactive attitude on the part of the government and more active public-private partnership, things are moving in the right direction. We in the industry are keeping our fingers crossed that growth in tourism in India will be incredible until 2010.
* Author was Former Dy. Director General/Regional Director, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India & presently working as Executive Director with Indian Association of Tour Operators, New Delhi